Layoffs, Breed Battle Dominate Maryland Meeting

Maryland racetracks have laid off or are poised to lay off employees in the wake of a simulcast disagreement between the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries.

Rosecroft Raceway might lay off 100 to 125 employees within two weeks, and Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park already have laid off 20 to 25 workers, officials said April 20 during a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission. The news emerged during a contentious hearing of Northwind Racing's application to buy Rosecroft, a harness track near Washington, D.C.

The hearing was scheduled ot resume the morning of April 21.

The crux of Northwind's application is that the commission allow it free access to Thoroughbred simulcasts. In the past, Rosecroft has had to buy the simulcasts from the state's Thoroughbred interests. An agreement between the two sides expired March 31.

As of April 19, Thoroughbred breeders and horsemen and the Maryland Jockey Club banned Rosecroft from showing and taking bets on any Thoroughbred races. Also, Pimlico and Laurel began closing at night because state law says that in a dispute over simulcasting, the Standardbred side can shut down the Thoroughbred tracks after 6:15 p.m.

Tom Chuckas Jr., president and chief executive officer of Rosecroft, said he would probably have to lay off workers to avoid bankruptcy. Rosecroft can now accept bets only on harness races. "Harness and harness only, I can't go forward," he said.

Joe De Francis, president and chief executive officer of the MJC, said the layoffs at Pimlico and Laurel were the result of being closed at night.

Meanwhile, Thoroughbred interests vigorously opposed Northwind's application to buy Rosecroft because of Northwind's intention to offer betting on Thoroughbred simulcasts without compensating the Thoroughbred industry, and its plans develop off-track-betting facilities and a telephone-betting system that could siphon business.

Mark Ricigliano, a Laurel businessman and Rosecroft veterinarian, owns 10% of Northwind. Greenwood Racing, which owns Philadelphia Park, controls 90%.

Marty Jacobs, lawyer for the MJC, said Thoroughbred tracks, breeders, and horsemen would lose $6.5 million a year if Rosecroft was allowed free access to Thoroughbred simulcasts.

Bob Green, chairman of Greenwood Racing, countered that the status quo of conflict and lack of progress "has done Maryland a disservice. It seems to me crazy that we can't get on and grow the business."

Terry Saxon, a member of the commission, accused the three Thoroughbred owners on the commission--Al Akman, John Franzone, and Lou Ulman--of being so pro-Thoroughbred that "there's no way the Standardbred industry can get a fair hearing before this commission."